Paradox Ministries Reconciliation: translations of the word in English, Hebrew and Arabic


The Paradox Newsletter

by The Rev. Tony Higton

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and Ministry in Israel and the Palestinian Territories

Issue 4 July 2006


Promoting ReconciliationParadox Ministries encourages Christians to understand and pray about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, seeing it through the eyes of both people groups involved, and taking the needs, fear and pain of both sides seriously. Its director, the Rev Tony Higton, who was Rector of a church in the Old City of Jerusalem for a number of years, circulates this email newsletter, speaks at seminars and encourages support of indigenous reconciliation ministry in Jerusalem. The newsletter is available free on request to those who add their email address to our Newsletter update list, available on the top of the 'Newsletter' page. Alternatively, send your email address and name to us via our online Contact Form. Please encourage others to join the mailing list.© Tony Higton


If ever the Israeli and Palestinian peoples needed our prayer, it is now.




The traumatic event of the serious illness of Ariel Sharon shocked Israel and deepened her insecurity. The result of the subsequent Israeli election, with the lowest turn-out ever, is seen by some commentators as a momentous vote for dividing the land, since it apparently supported the Kadima party’s policy of withdrawal in the West Bank. One wrote: “The people have spoken. The land will be divided. Thirty nine years after the start of occupation, the Israeli nation decided this week to significantly minimise it….. the Greater Land of Israel is over and done with.”


However, others point out that, whereas in 1969 80% regarded foreign policy as most important and 20% domestic issues, today only 38% regard foreign policy as most important and 62% domestic issues. Many expressed their disillusionment with politicians by voting for the Pensioners Party which is basically an anti-political protest party.


Ehud Olmert, head of the new Kadima party campaigned on a “Convergence” ticket. Convergence means removing most isolated settlements and converging them into blocs of West Bank settlements which will remain under Israeli control with wide security zones in preparation for a future Palestinian state. The intention is to implement Convergence in 2008.


I visited Olmert when he was still Mayor of Jerusalem (he said how good it was to meet an Anglican who was positive towards Israel!). He is convinced that the only way to stop the violence is to separate Israel physically from the Palestinians.  He aims to finalize plans for extensive withdrawal from parts of the West Bank within the next 18 months. "The State of Israel will change the face of the region," Olmert said of his plan. "I will not miss this opportunity."  However he rejected the possibility of sharing control of Jerusalem and its main holy sites with a future Palestinian state, though he left open the option that some Arab neighbourhoods surrounding the capital could eventually be under Palestinian sovereignty. "Dividing Jerusalem will not bring peace, only more fighting," he said.  Olmert is not holding a national referendum about his plan because he believes the general election gave him a mandate for it.  The US supports Olmert’s convergence plan but has asked him to delay for a few months.


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on Olmert to drop his idea of unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank, which would effectively settle the border between Israel and a future Palestinian state.  However Olmert dismissed the idea that Abbas is a potential partner for peace negotiations, saying that  he respects Abbas as a person who is opposed to terror and who would have accepted the basic principles for future negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians . But he added: "He is powerless. He is helpless. He's unable to even stop the minimal terror activities amongst the Palestinians."  However it is likely that Israel will urge the Palestinians to resume talks on the road map, but only on condition they accept the international Quartet's three principles - recognition of Israel, a rejection of violence and terror and acceptance of previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.




The unexpected Hamas landslide achieved in the Palestinian elections, where 77% of the population voted, has dramatically changed the Middle East situation.  When I heard the result my mind went back to my visit to Bethlehem in October. My guide was a Palestinian who had been imprisoned by the Israelis (it’s a long story!) and he took me to places I where I would have felt unsafe had he not been with me, including the refugee camps. I was surprised to see many green Hamas flags fluttering in the breeze over areas of the town. Even then I did not imagine there would be a landslide. But Hamas had poured funding into deprived Palestinian areas.


For over a year we had dared to hope that peace would break out. I had urged people to give Abbas a chance to make a success in very difficult circumstances, which even threatened his life. But it became increasingly clear that he and the Palestinian Authority were not really in control. Gunmen stormed Palestinian Authority offices. Gangs stole land in Gaza designated by the PA for new housing. Palestinians were killed in gang warfare. PA officials spoke of there being an Intifada against Abbas. Some would argue that Israel did not give Abbas enough support to hinder a Hamas victory.


In its election campaign, Hamas promised to bring an end to the anarchy in the territories, but instead it has intensified in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and even threatens civil war, which could topple the Palestinian Authority.  There have been armed clashes between Hamas and Fatah forces. Armed members of the Aksa Martyrs' Brigades surrounded the Palestinian Authority Prime Minister's Office, took over Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's office and raided the PA's Transportation Ministry. Dozens of masked Palestinian policemen blocked a major road in the Gaza Strip and stormed a government building as they demanded their overdue salaries from the Hamas-led government. An assassination attempt on the PA Intelligence chief in Gaza has heightened fears of an attempt against the life of Abbas. Bombs have been laid near the homes and cars of both Hamas and Fatah senior officials.


The suicide bomb in a Tel Aviv restaurant on April 17th, where six people were killed and 35 injured, was condemned by Abbas as a “terrorist act.”  However, Hamas, which had earlier said it was abandoning the use of suicide bombers, defended the bombing, saying the Palestinians had the right to defend themselves against Israeli attacks.


The Hamas government is under economic and political attack from the US and the EU as well as Israel. Also Arab states are failing to live up to their promises of financial help.  Palestinian embassies around the world are paralysed.


A political battle is raging between President Abbas and Hamas. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh accuses Abbas of denying the government its proper powers in order to prove it is incompetent.  Abbas said he has the power to dismiss the Hamas government and threatened to dismiss Haniyeh. According to Israel, the US is working quietly to support Abbas against Hamas.


Hamas is defiant in the face of the widespread political and economic boycott, but it is facing imminent financial collapse. It inherited debts of $1.5 billion.  Qatar offered $50 million and Syria offered to fundraise for the PA.


In view of all this, in a visit to Europe, Abbas warned:  "Life will be frozen and then there will be an explosion of anger and this would lead to a chaotic situation of which we cannot foresee the results."  He appealed to Europe to give the Hamas government a chance.


However, various humanitarian initiatives are being taken to get aid to the Palestinian people bypassing the Hamas government. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) will continue its assistance to Palestinian refugees. The Quartet - the United States, Russia, European Union and United Nations – are creating a trust fund, which Western diplomats say may not be up and running until the end of June. It would fund would funnel aid to key sectors like health and education, bypassing the Hamas-led government. PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' office is set to serve as the go-between.. Israel is buying medical equipment and medicines for the Palestinians out of frozen tax funds it collected for the Palestinian Authority.  Olmert said that the Palestinians "are the victims of their own extremist, fundamentalist, religious, inflexible and unyielding leadership, and we will do everything in our power to help these innocent people."




Many Christians who support Israel will feel tempted to see the victory of Hamas as proving what they had always thought, that there was no hope of peace with the Palestinians. They will see it as a massive vote for terrorism and a rejection of Israel’s right to exist. An Evangelical leader in Jerusalem publicly stated that it was a threat not only to Jews but to Christians reminiscent of 1930s Nazi Germany. Such Christians may see this as a clear justification for Israel to take a very tough line to ensure that a Palestinian terrorist state is not set up in its back yard. After all, Mahmoud al-Zahar, Hamas Foreign Minister has foretold that a Hamas victory would lead to a radical Muslim state, ruled by Islamic law and run by the Muslim Brotherhood. This state would have a policy of total non-co-operation with Israel.


The Hamas Government is dominated by nine Ministers who are Hamas activists, with 15 who are either affiliated to or sympathetic towards Hamas. It is interesting that one Minister, George Jawada Murcos, is a Christian from Bethlehem. The government is committed to forming a Palestinian State and the Right of Return of all Palestinian refugees to Israel, which Israel cannot accept because it would eventually result in an Arab majority. It will negotiate with Israel over the latter’s withdrawal from the West Bank but insists on “re-examining” earlier Israel-PA agreements. It also reserves the right to “various forms of resistance” which clearly include terrorism.


PA Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar's sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan informing him that Hamas would accept a two-state solution. However he gave Palestinian journalists a different version of the letter which omitted reference to accepting the two-state solution. In mid-April Al Jazeera reported that Hamas was about to announce that it will recognize Israel if she withdraws to the 1967 borders. Later in the month Deputy Prime Minster Nasser Abu-Shayer said if Hamas adopted the 2002 Saudi peace plan, which calls for peace with Israel following an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders, it would be conditional on Israel recognizing the Hamas-led PA government.  He added that they had not finally decided to adopt the plan. However a spokesman said Hamas would not accept Israel’s legitimacy.


The latest news is that Abbas has given Hamas an ultimatum – to accept a two-state solution on the basis of a plan drawn up by Hamas, Fatah and Islamic Jihad prisoners in Israeli jails. This would mean accepting Israel’s right to exist, if it returns to the 1967 borders. If Hamas fails to do this in the very near future, Abbas would put the plan to a referendum.


It would be naïve to ignore the reality of antisemitism, the bitter hatred for Israel and the presence of evil men and women bent on religiously-inspired violence and oppression, not to mention the spiritual forces behind these factors.


However, I would counsel caution. We need to ask what God is doing in all this? How is he planning to show his love for the Palestinian people as well as the Israelis? After all, he has a proven record of turning stumbling blocks into stepping stones. Let’s ask a few relevant questions?


Why did the Palestinians vote for Hamas?


Was it really a vote for terrorism and the destruction of Israel? I don’t think it was so simple for the following reasons:

  1. In all elections many ordinary people cast their votes on more immediate, domestic issues rather than on the basis of the bigger picture, as we have seen in the Israeli elections. Most ordinary people, including Palestinians, simply want to get on with their lives in safety and with some financial security. The Palestinian people were confronted with a situation of increasing chaos and corruption within their government. Rival gangs were terrorising the streets, the economy was in a bad way and these factors were the more immediate, domestic issues which governed their choice. I believe it was more a vote against the existing government than an enthusiastic vote for Hamas.   We must remember that Hamas is well-known in the Palestinian areas for its social welfare, health and educational programmes. It has also projected an image of honesty. I think all this will have been a significant factor.  If Hamas doesn’t deliver stability and economic improvement, the Palestinian people could well turn against them. Sadly a good deal of anarchy continues on the Palestinian streets after the election. We should not malign the Palestinian people by concluding they are a people of terrorism. I know that there have been opinion polls suggesting widespread support for terrorism. But we must remember that in a context of such violent instability it is dangerous not to agree with those responsible for the violence. Pray for the ordinary Palestinian people caught up in the politics.

  2. History shows many examples that the terrorist of yesterday can become the statesman of today. Is it possible this could happen with Hamas now they are in power?  It is easy to be radical and to appeal to popular support when one is side-lined (as Islamists are throughout most of the world). But it is very different when one is in power. There seem to be some signs that this could take place in Hamas, despite the anti-Israel rhetoric and the sabre-rattling. It seems to me that this is an important area for Christian intercession. Pray that, now it is in power, Hamas will begin to turn away from violence towards statesmanship. Even if some influential Hamas activists don’t do so, we can pray that sufficient leading lights will do so and that they will make the running in the long term. Is this naïve wishful-thinking? I don’t think so. Remember how unlikely it seemed that the Soviet empire would collapse and the Berlin Wall be demolished. Also, who would have thought that Ariel Sharon would unilaterally withdraw from Gaza? Massive surprises can take place in the political world. It is interesting that Hamas-controlled West Bank local authorities work closely with the Israelis, where necessary.

  3. There will be hot-heads in Hamas, but most sensible Palestinians can hardly believe they really could destroy Israel, despite the terrorist claim that Israel was driven out of Gaza by violence. Israel is a very powerful nation militarily: the sixth most powerful nation in the world. Given the incentive of 2000 years of anti-Semitic persecution amongst the nations, leading to the Holocaust and the resurgence of anti-Semitism in the modern world, whatever concessions they may be willing to make, Israelis are not about to give up their land. Decades of war and terrorism have had a terrible effect, but they have not weakened the resolve of the vast majority to remain a nation. Israel claims that the arrest of key terrorists has decimated the ranks of Hamas. IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz said "In contrast to the theory that the army cannot exterminate terrorism, I believe the army can reduce terrorism to the very lowest level."  Pray for the protection of the State of Israel.

  4. On the economic level, a Palestinian state cannot thrive without co-operation with Israel despite receiving assistance from Iran. As stated above, if Hamas does not deliver the goods economically, the Palestinian people could turn against them. It has to be noted though, that the fledgling Palestinian democracy could easily be replaced by a dictatorship, but the economic and political facts of life outlined in these points would still apply.

  5. Then there is the international situation. For reasons of self interest, the larger nations, especially in the West are keen to see peace in the Middle East. Both the USA and the EU – together with the majority of the UN support the right of Israel to exist. It must concentrate the minds of the Hamas leadership that there is such strong political and economic opposition to them amongst world leaders.

  6. Then there is the Iran-factor threatening nuclear instability in the Middle East is concentrating the minds of those leaders.  After the euphoria of the landslide and promotion to leadership has died away, the realities of the situation are bound to be clear to Hamas.

Praise God for the much clearer international stand against governments supporting terrorism. I urge Christians not to panic about the Hamas victory but to pause for thought about what God might be doing in this situation. Positive change could still take place, if we pray earnestly that the realities of the situation and the voices of moderation will bring about positive change in Hamas or its replacement by a more moderate government.




There are sinister developments in Iran. On October 30th Iranian President Ahmadinejad spoke at a “World without Zionism” conference in Teheran. He described Israel as a front for the World of Arrogance (the West) which has forced an Islamic retreat for the last 300 years. So Palestine is in the front line of this conflict. He pointed out that the USSR had unexpectedly collapsed.  He quoted Ayatollah Khomeini as saying: “This regime that is occupying Qods [ Jerusalem ] must be eliminated from the pages of history.” And commented: “This sentence is very wise. The issue of Palestine is not an issue on which we can compromise …. Very soon, this stain of disgrace [i.e. Israel ] will vanish from the center of the Islamic world - and this is attainable.”


We can be grateful that the UN has instituted January 27 as worldwide Holocaust Awareness Day.  Commenting on the Ahmadinejad’s statement, US Ambassador John Bolton said: "When a president or a member state can brazenly and hatefully call for a second Holocaust by suggesting that Israel, the Jewish homeland, should be wiped off the map, it is clear that not all have learned the lessons of the Holocaust and that much work remains to be done."  Kofi Annan said he was dismayed by Ahmadinejad's comments and cancelled a trip to Iran.  The comments were condemned by the UN Security, the European Union, Canada, Britain, France, Turkey, Russia, and China. The Palestinian Authority's Saeb Erekat spoke against Ahmadinejad: "Palestinians recognize the right of the state of Israel to exist and I reject his comments." The Egyptian daily Al-Ahram dismissed his statement as "fanatical" and spelling disaster for Arabs.


Praise God for the much clearer international stand against anti-Semitism and recognition of the State of Israel. We also need to pray earnestly for God to curb extremism in Iran and to prevent the development of nuclear weapons there.


Tony Higton

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